The upsides to being back in the UK


When we were planning our return to the UK, I wrote a list of all the things that I’d missed and that I was looking forward to. Now, almost a year since we got back, I’ve crossed off most of them. This list got a bit long, so I’ve separated it into two posts – one about being back in the UK, the other about being back in London, the city that I call home.

Things to enjoy in the UK:

Bacon sandwiches. Known as something that has the power to convert vegetarians, British (more often Danish) bacon is a bit like a cross between the Canadian and American kinds. Thick cut and grilled so the fat is just browning but the meat is still juicy, and pressed between two pieces of soft white bread and butter, this is the taste of home. R enjoys his with Worcester sauce; I’m a purist.

Pubs. The pub at the end of our road got renovated when we got back, so we now have a really nice local! It’s a bit hipster – unvarnished and unmatched furniture, plenty of gin and craft beer, and food mostly provided by street food vendors on rotation – but we love it.

Beer gardens. It’s lovely to drink outside. Even if it’s a little too cold; especially when the sun shines. There aren’t that many in London, but we have spent some lovely afternoons and evenings in beer gardens in Winchester, Exeter and Oxford.

The seaside. So far we’ve just enjoyed this in Devon, but there’s nothing like a good long walk along a coastal path, boats clinking at their moorings, the smell of salt – followed by a pint of beer or cider, with a view of the sea.

British countryside and birdsong. We recently had a weekend away, camping, on the border between England and Wales. The walks in woodland, carpeted in bluebells and wild garlic were just lovely – and a great foraging opportunity – and every morning we woke (rather grey and cold and early) to the dawn chorus. Though I loved the red flashes of cardinals and the cries of blue jays in the States, I’m happy to be reunited with my native wood pigeons and blackbirds.

British Indian and Chinese food. I wrote about how different the American version of Chinese can be. Friends will be happy to know that I am now reunited with my beloved prawn crackers – which can also be picked up in most supermarkets here.

‘British’ Mexican food. Although we really enjoyed Tex-Mex in the States, in London we’ve rediscovered the chain Wahaca, where you can get really good value Baha-style Mexican.

Italian pizza. Thin and fresh, and available so many places, you can kid yourself it’s not that unhealthy. Pizza Express is great value and has nice wine – I know, pizza with wine rather than beer! – and, as I’ve mentioned, a new chain, ‘Franco Manca’ opened while we were away.

Ok, this list became a bit London-focused! I’ll leave you with these:


Scraps from DC – it’s the little differences

I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it’s just, there it’s a little different.

You want an example?

Well, in summer you can walk into Pret a manger in DC and buy a lobster roll. And I’m not talking about a couple of pieces of crayfish, I’m talking about proper lobster.

And in bars, you can always get food. Most places you can even get good food – like a fresh salad you want to eat, or mac and cheese – Americans will eat that with anything. And hot sauce with breakfast – they drown everything in that.

And they have H&M. But it’s not a cheap shop for kids – they treat it like it’s high European fashion.

And TK Maxx? It’s pretty much the same, except in America they call it TJ Maxx.

Scraps from American travels – New Orleans

It’s chaotic, and not at all like America.

Though it resembles ramshackle bits of Spain or Italy, it’s unmistakably French.

Music everywhere! The expected brass, but also jazz, blues, even French folk.

People wandering the streets with plastic glasses of beer, drunk already at 1pm.

Parties on balconies bedecked with beads, ribbons, banners. The colours of Mardi Gras, shine for a month-long bender.

Arguments breaking out as out-of-control kids throw beer down from their balconies onto performers in the street.

The place smells of sugar: praline shops, fudge, chocolate, and powder-covered beignets.

Bars are open to the street, the air balmy and soft on this February day. Chartres Street – most of the tourist chaos left behind on Decator and Canal – has that classic, French-quarter charm you read about. The square at the end of the street is like Paris – street art and performers.

I eat crawfish cakes with hot sauce.

A middle-aged couple order tall cocktails to go.

And Yoda just walked past with a storm trooper.

Saying a long goodbye to my blog?

Just over three years ago I moved to the States. In a way it was good timing – I had just finished a PhD, there were no jobs in the offing, we were still young(ish) and many of our friends had moved out of London to start families. But it took a long time and a lot of stress to get the visa that would allow R to take up the job he had been offered. By the time we finally got it, after an entire morning at the American embassy I was rather too emotionally exhausted to feel the underlying fear very acutely.

The fear was there though. Because although we assured friends and family that it would only be 18 months, in reality I knew R would be very happy to extend it if everything went well. And I’d never been to the US before, and had no idea if I’d like it. And I had no idea if I’d get permission to work, or be able to find a job if I did. I had visions of myself drinking gin through the afternoon, waiting for R to come home, or, worse, learning to drive and then just taking off somewhere.

Happily I didn’t succumb to alcoholism. (In fact, it was a massive relief to me that in extremis my reaction is merely to eat too much, become slightly agoraphobic and then call a therapist.) And while I did learn to drive, this was towards the end of our tenure and a skill used more to take road trip vacations than to run away.

Perhaps I should have worried more about not being able to work. If nothing else my experience in America taught me how much work is central to my identity.

But mainly the things that I learnt from living in the States were positive. It confirmed that I like people, and can get on with pretty much anyone. I like travel and learning about other cultures and their histories. I like food, and drink and music, and respect these as cultures. I like the outdoors, and healthy(ish) living. And I aspire to live a balanced life.

Of course it’s been a challenge incorporating these aims into my life back home in London – I think we all aspire to a truly balanced life, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever met anyone who has achieved this. But I think I’m definitely friendlier to strangers, and more willing to travel frequently to see friends and family. We’ve also been trying to incorporate American food into our lives here. Making a big bowl of guacamole to have with the football (NFL) is essential for us now, and we’ve bought a small barbecue so we can continue to grill when it’s dry and warm(ish) out. I’m planning to write a post about eating American in London, so watch this space.

But really I’m finding it harder and harder to think about blogging. There are things I never got around to writing about – our love of baseball, our trips to New York – but it just seems like such a different world now. So my plan is to write what I can, when I can to cover off what I’ve missed, but to work to an end date.

In June this year we’re heading back to the US for a two-week road trip in the NW. It will be a year since we left to come home – we made it a year! – and that feels like a good point to end this blog. At least until the next big adventure…

Lost in the familiar – Repatriation musings


This is another glimpse into my repatriation experience, written back in November 2016.

When I got back to London I kept walking the wrong way. Or stopping mid step, doubting my instinct. It was most embarrassing on the tube, when I had to wind my way through the labyrinth of ways not usually taken, walking what seemed like miles of additional distance to undo my mistake and get to the right tube line, going the right direction.

I couldn’t get lost in my thoughts and trust to autopilot anymore – it was like those first months in the States, where I had to concentrate every day to make sure I really was following the alphabetised streets in the right order. I’m not sure I ever got to the point there when I was completely sure of my direction when exiting the metro at Metro Center.

It was weirdest when I was back at the university where I used to study and teach. I knew I needed to get to the School office, which I remembered was on the third floor, but I couldn’t remember where the staircase was – quite an important detail to have slipped my mind! And then there was the TA room that I knew I could book for office hours; I knew it was a corner office – but which corner of the building? I remembered all the elements of where I used to teach, I just couldn’t remember the paths between them – how they fit together.

To some extent this translated into life too. We could go through the motions of our old life, but the motivations – the animating spirit – eluded us for a while. We’re not the same people we used to be. We had two years of different habits – habits which can’t be replicated over here – and they’ve changed us slightly. It’s a bit like @thesmult says, we’ve changed shape and it’s been difficult to fit back into our grooves.

But of course, the grooves haven’t stayed the same shape either. The epic reconstruction of London Bridge station is a case in point, and has led to me taking many new routes around London in order to avoid the chaos! Seeing that – finding the unfamiliar and the new in this life that on the surface is the same as we lived two years ago – is what’s helping. Our family and friends have been getting on with things (mainly having babies – apparently it was easier to give up alcohol when we weren’t around…) and we’ve been able to take on new roles in their lives.

On a much smaller level, there are quite a few new cafes/breweries/restaurants in London now, which are helping us to adapt some of our DC routines to fit the London context; and those great cultures of American football and Halloween have reached new heights of popularity since we’ve been away.

And after four months, I’ve finally stopped going the wrong way on the tube.